Sunday, May 1, 2011

La quema del Judas 2011

Last Sunday I went back to Cerro El Litre to watch the Quema del Judas. Last year I went to the parade and the following event and really liked it. I would have liked to go somewhere else this time for a change in scenery, but I was running late and didn't know if I would make it anywhere else in time. Perhaps next year if I am in Valparaiso, I will check out the events in the Plaza Waddington or Parque Italia. Anyway, last year I explained the burning of Judas in more in detail (with photos) the tradition of collecting coins, putting them in an effigy of Judas, and burning him until all the coins fall and children collect them. This year I took a sequence of photos that more adequately show the process.

Although its very interesting, especially for someone who didn't grow up knowing about this tradition, personally I find it a little uncomfortable. (Aside from the obvious uneasy feeling which may come watching the portrayal of torching a human,) It's another one of many activities in Chile where I feel people really don't take much precaution to prevent accidents or keep their children from harm. Judas went swinging back and forth on a cable, launching flaming appendages towards the crowd while dripping lighter fluid and chunks of scorching hot material down among small children below as they tried to pick up the coins.

Well anyway, here are the photos, click to enlarge:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I miss you, Netflix

I just spent two hours trying to stream something, anything, I found remotely interesting, yet all I got was a couple dozen popups, probably a new virus or two, and an unwanted radio player download. When I finally found a soundless Megavideo version of "Cyrus", I was almost desperate enough to try to lipread for 1.5 hours!

I'm a little bit depressed that I cant get Netflix in Chile. Last time I lived in the US, having Netflix was one of the best parts. Between having the 2 rentals and the online streaming, I was set.

But its not really the ease and delivery service that I appreciated most... it was the website. I liked the ease of browsing through all the titles and seeing their synopsis, and having the ability to click to add it automatically to my queue. From the queue you could reorder the movies according to priority, and it would send the next one on your list automatically. Plus many of them allowed for online streaming. A good majority of video sites are now restricting based on country location, and Chile is usually on the block list.

Unfortunately, when I moved and had to close my Netflix account, I lost access to my list of movies! Now I have trouble figuring out which movies I would like to see, and usually end up with a list of movies that wont be available to me ...forever!!! (online or for rental- forget theaters, the movies I like most rarely make Chilean theaters). And when they finally are, well, I've long lost my list.

I'm sure there are other websites that do this type of thing. Maybe I should find one of those and see if I still have a Blockbuster account.... or an online streaming site that hosts less mainstream stuff. Orrrrr....Netflix could follow me to Valpo! ;-)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My House Sets on Fire 2 - The Sequel!!

Because once is never enough...

Ugh, apparently.

So we're a couple doors down at my cuñados having tea and watching the first episode of Arrested Development, and I was getting frustrated because he was going to miss the story because there was a ton of distracting noise going on outside in the streets. Two seconds later there was a huge thump on the door, and someone screamed "your house is on fire!"
So we run outside to get out, but it wasn't the house we were in, but instead, MY house! The street was full of people staring at the house, and when I opened the door all I noticed is smoke. Thick smoke everywhere. And flames on the kitchen ceiling. It sparked just like when some idiot almost set the ascensor on fire with fireworks. My boyfriend and his brother started trying to put out the fire with water and get the gas tank away from the larger fire on the other side of the wall. Thank God I had stashed about 10 jugs of water last Friday, juuuust in case there actually was a tsunami! A neighbor had been hosing down the fire from over the top of our house for some time already. Soon the firemen charged in. They started spraying a bit of water, but then someone shouted that the fire was in the house below us so they all started to rush out, but then the firefighter outside yelled them back and started putting out the fire from the outside of our house, where the fire had actually started. One firefighter told us to collect our important documents, and I proceeded to stumble around for about 20 minutes in the smoke, unable to find my damn passport. And one of the cats. The one I could find was terrified enough for the both of them and all 18 lives together. When we finally found the other one, she scratched my boyfriend up pretty bad when we tried to get her our of the house. I went back to check on the fire a few times, of which I only really remember seeing them hack down part of our roof and get everything wet. Lots of random sketchy looking people kept coming into our house and the windows, either being really nosey or trying to steal things. It was really frustrating to have to try to protect our things from theft in the middle of all of our other worries.

Aside from everything smelling like a campfire (oh my gosh I cannot even grasp having to do so much laundry! everything reeks), we didn't really lose much of value besides all of our utility tubing, all Angel's really nice woodworking tools and a lot of other stored things that I cannot even remember. We also have to replace the siding and the roof of the kitchen, but I'm going to try to think of that as a positive thing, as I suspected the previous one of housing spiders. And a wall-to-wall mirror completely disappeared, however, as a tradeoff we now have a lot of super sparkly trash! Take that, copuchento neighbors!

God Bless the bomberos in Valparaiso. I couldn't have asked for more. They were quite friendly and nice as well.

With the sketchy randoms running through and all the commotion with the police and fire fighters, I didn't really feel it was the right time to take any photos, as you might understand (I will not deny it was one of the first things to come to mind, pathetic as it may seem). I tried to get some after shots but my boyfriend was pretty angry about the ration of "picture taking" to "assistance cleaning" so I hope you'll forgive me. However, as the title suggests, this is not the first time our house in Valpo has set on fire. Last time I took more pictures.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


"jajja pareces una niñita," he commented Tuesday on my photo.

On Wednesday, Roberto died.

Death has never shaken me so hard. Its been a real struggle to stay composed, and I haven't been especially successful.

Roberto first became part of our social circle because he lived with a group of friends. Over time, he came to spend a lot of time in our house, as Angel taught him how to make instruments in the workshop, and Roberto hung around to practice cavaquinho with the band. Back when they were doing weekly shows, he was a regular and loved the energy. That's where I pointed him out a few years ago to one of my gringa friends. "If I could only put in a plug for one guy, it would be him." Despite my attempt, it wasn't until later that they officially became a couple, and we began to go to even more social events together.

Roberto died tragically in the South of Chile, where he went for some piece of mind after his girlfriend went back to the US. He stopped by the day before his trip, and the two of us talked for a while. He was lonely and missed her, but optimistic that somehow they'd find a way to be in the same place again. He had come to borrow a set of DVDs and materials to learn English, knowing it would be necessary in his future, and promised to bring them back soon. He told me about his motivations for going south, his intentions of going on to return to his studies, and his hope of figuring out logical way to be together with the person he loved.

Everything has been really hard for me. Of course its hard grasping that life can slip away so suddenly. And its unimaginable to think what its like for my friend to hear this news from afar and have nobody to help her cope. Its difficult not knowing how he died- if there was a struggle, if it was painful or peaceful. Its heart-wrenching watching a mother say her final goodbye. And its unlikely I'll ever understand how such a good person can be taken so soon. Most of all its hard to come to terms with the fact that someone I saw so frequently will never again stop by. I need to stop expecting to run into him on the street corner with a yoga mat or body board. It wont happen, but his voice is stuck in my head too. It's not haunting though, its quite friendly. I haven't done so yet, so when do I delete his number from my phone?

Throughout this all I couldn't help but dwell on something that frequently bothers me. This is unfortunately the 3rd person in my social circle who has passed away in Chile. And the hushed reactions, or lack of them, have extremely bothered me in the past. For the other two girls who died recently, since the initial notice of the accidents, I have never again heard anybody bring up their deaths, or memories of them, and there haven´t been any official video or words at events where their presence would be missed. Its illogical to think that nobody cares, but the reaction of people my age comes across as indifference, along the lines of "oh, that's too bad." Change of subject. Never brought up again.

I was quite bothered that I only knew 5 people at Roberto's funeral. The church was packed with relatives, community members, and people from different periods of his past, but I felt a large part of his current social circle was missing. To be honest, I don't know with certainty that my boyfriend would have gone if I had presented it as an option. Three of the roommates he'd been living with for years did not come. Two of them politely declined a ride without comment when I saw them the night before. I will admit I haven't gone to all of my older relative's funerals, but I feel like, being young and away from home, Roberto's family would have enjoyed to hear more about him from all the people he spent his time with, and it puzzled me that some of them weren't there.

I wonder if people my age don't feel ready or willing to deal with death. Especially if it is a death nobody saw coming, as the ones here have been. When I was younger in the US and someone died, everyone would desperately try to remember all the ways they were connected to the person who passed away. They wanted to feel part of a major event, even a sad one. In school, anybody who ever had a class with the person would feel the need to go to the funeral and tell everybody what they remember most about the person.

But perhaps we are at the stage where there is no desire to have been acquainted with someone who passed away, and we are starting to really contemplate the meaning of life and death. Maybe if we can avoid the need to internalize at all, it helps ease the transition to life without him. If this is so, I do feel it is only a phase. Sooner or later I think most people come to see these rituals as calming or necessary, even if just out of respect for those who will go on living without the person.

I feel like my post needed a picture of him, and since I carry around a camera as if it were an appendage, I have a lot of nice ones-mostly dancing, hugging... but this one seems to have a special something to it. I'll miss that smile.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Biejito Pasquero

It was the morning of Christmas eve. There were only a few hours left before our bus left to go out of town to stay with my boyfriend's grandparents. We were running out of time, but I had already bought the remote control car requested in the letter, ("Bueno biejito pasquero, queria pedirte hargo muy especial para mi y mi familia...") Despite the rush, and the fact that that the phone number listed in the letter had been disconnected, it was not yet time to give up.
By that point, the letter was all crumpled up from being lugged around in various bags and pockets to ferias, shops, and other households during my Christmas spree, but it started out on crisp graph paper pulled from a home-made envalope with real colorful flowers fastened to the outside. Along the bottom, a crayon doodle of a young boy slept happily in his bed, alongside a fancy decorated Christmas tree, while four yellow reindeer pulled Santa and his large blue sack of presents through a floating dream bubble over his head.

My boyfriend doesn't have a lot of patience when things go wrong, so I was nervous to point out that I actually hadn't been able to contact the family, nor did I know quite exactly where they lived. I pretended everything would go smoothly as we bought veggies and meat for dinner for a family of 6. I pretended not to be confused or surprised as the "streets" on my sketch from google maps turned out to be small alleys and staircases. Carefully watching the numbers, I suddenly announced "We're here, I think." Then we just stood there. The house number didn't exist.

I was sure we were in the wrong place, as the houses didn't look like they would hold the family in the complicated situation described in the letter. But then a mailman emerged from a staircase that dipped behind and below the houses at street level. He said he wasn't aware of the people we were looking for, but to check it out ourselves. Down below was a dirt path lined with stay animals and 5 doors, including one with the number we were looking for. But the door was ancient and cracked, sealed with months or years of dirt on all sides. For some reason we knocked, as if someone was going to be inside to open the door after all this time. Of course nothing happened; no wonder the phone was disconnected. We just stood there, wondering what to do with the bags of food. As a last ditch effort, we knocked on the next door, to ask if they knew where we could find the family. The door opened a crack, and a skinny 11-year-old asked who we were. My boyfriend said we were looking for the family of the young boy who used to live next door because we received his letter to Viejito Pascuero. He said to hold on while he went to get his mother, and shut the door again. As soon as the door shut, we heard a small voice "caballero, caballero, down here!! I'm down here!!" My boyfriend crouched down to knee level, where one eyeball peered through a finger-sized hole in the door. The door opened again, and we stood back up and explained the story again to the mother. Before she responded, she told the boys to put some clothes on, the younger one was now hiding behind her in his underwear. "That was my son. Come in." It was the boy in the peep hole who had written the letter after all.

As the door opened and we took a few steps inside, I was reminded of the Laura Ingles Wilder dugout house which I had visited many times as a kid. Their house showed a level of poverty I've never really seen with my own eyes. I felt strange, wanting to observe every detail yet not wanting to be caught doing so, and worried they would feel uncomfortable having me there. I immediately regretted not having brought more to give than we had. It was dark inside, but the walls were made of dirt with cardboard stapled to them. A small kitchen sat off to one side, with appliances so old I had never seen similar models. There was a small fake Christmas tree sitting on a shelf. It had a couple decorations and a string of lights, which the mother pointed out had been broken by the children. To the side was what appeared to be a closet, but we were told that the father was there resting, as he had spent the night in the hospital. The older boys weren't home.

Right behind the door was a filthy and lumpy bed where it was apparent many people sleep. The younger boy jumped back up on it, still in nothing more than whitie tighties, and shouted "I bet that bag is full of our presents!!! Isn't it?" Before waiting for an answer, he set off on a mission to prove to he'd been good this year. We were presented with report cards, craft projects, and notebooks filled with handwriting drills.

My boyfriend started asking what the kids like to do for fun. The older one liked soccer, and the younger one said he liked Playstation. My boyfriend said that its good to have some hobbies that are more active than playing Playstation. The little one paused to think about this, then responded "Like Nintendo!" The boy was only 6 years old, but he had the personality and street smarts of someone three times his age. From a shelf near the floor he pulled out a towel, taller than himself, and announced he was going to sell it at the street market for $1,000 pesos, so he could buy a Playstation. The older brother laughed, but nobody had the heart to mention he might come up short.

The mom was very humble, seemingly very happy we had brought some things for Christmas. There weren't any other presents sitting around. She let the boys indulge in their excitement to show off to the visitors, occasionally looking a little embarrassed of the things they came up with. My boyfriend showed them a few tricks he does, and I have never seen anything so adorable as the eagerness with which the boys wanted to learn the special handshake used by Tuga the mime; they were so proud to be in on something.

The younger boy asked if we had read his letter. I said yes, and asked if he really wrote it or if one of his older brothers helped. He said he decided what to write, but the dad had written the letter. Learning this, I felt bad, because one of the reasons that letter stood out to me was because of the all the misspelled words and poor grammar. He asked proudly if I liked the flowers, which were his idea.

Although we claimed we were just helping out Santa with the delivery, the boy said he already knew Santa isn't real. "Last week el Viejito Pascuero came to my school, but I told my whole class he wasn't real, because it was my uncle in the red suit!!"
"...He ruined it for the whole class," added the mom.

We handed over all the food to the mother, and gave the boy his car, though it was wrapped up and he was told not to open it til midnight. The letter hadn't mentioned any other gift ideas, nor the ages or gender of the siblings, but we felt especially compelled to do something else for the family, so we ended up giving away some of the gifts in my bag which were designated for other people. I knew the mom would love the thick flower patterned beach towel I was tempted to keep for myself, and when we handed him a light, round, present covered in colorful wrapping paper, the older brother gave us a content, knowing wink as my boyfriend said "you'll have to wait til midnight to find out what this one is!"

Suddenly my heart sank, as I realized I had forgotten one of the batteries needed for the remote control car, and even if the family had the money to buy one (which I highly doubted), there wouldn't be any place open at the hour they unwrap the gifts. Its only expected that a kid must try out a new toy immediately!

We said our goodbyes and left the house, now extremely behind schedule for our trip. But I couldn't shake the feeling of disappointment of having screwed up about the battery. We checked all the neighborhood stores, but nobody had the right one. On the way home, we passed a supermarket that would have the battery and I impulsively decided we had to get it and head back. It cost about $2,500 pesos! After we climbed back up the hill and dropped it off with the older boy, I felt much better.

I kind of hope we see them again.

Since then I have questioned a lot the balance between doing good for helping others, and doing good to make yourself feel good. I know that both elements come into play, and I think thats fine. It will always be that way, and it doesn't have to be a negative aspect of doing good deeds. My feelings were affirmed when I saw the Friends rerun where Joey challenges Phoebe to find a single selfless good deed, and I decided to again write again about my experience, even if its slightly exploitative in nature, because I do feel that this is something I want to remember and share.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mystery solved

A few weeks ago I had to go across Valparaiso to pick something up. It was a calm, quiet, cloudy afternoon. There weren't many people on the streets at all. Considering that, there were an unusually large number of people... dressed like cats.

When I saw the first couple people, I noticed the ears and thought it must be some new pokemon trend or something. But from the bus window I then saw a few more average looking Chileans in their 20s sporting the ears, whiskers, and one girl in an entire cat body suit, sitting on the side of the road. On my way back, I walked, passing by another girl with nothing unusual besides a black tail hanging down her back, and later reaching my house, a large 30 year old bearded man with a perky cat ear headband.

And that was the end of the weird day when random people were dressed like cats.

Until this picture popped up on my facebook newsfeed.

A "Fan Day" event at Huevo. Everything matched, cloudy day, all the cat people...
I probably would've checked it out if I had any idea what was going on.